Patriots QB Tom Bradywill play against the Cowboys this afternoon, but as Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (video link) notes, the team will need to closely monitor Brady’s elbow moving forward. Brady was unable to finish practice on Friday due to elbow pain, and while he was able to take all necessary reps on Saturday, he will continue to get work on the elbow as the season goes on.
Now for more from the AFC East:
It’s not unusual for teams to distance themselves from certain prospects in the pre-draft process in order to hide their interest in those prospects, and that’s exactly what the Patriots did with punter Jake Bailey, as Mike Reiss of ESPN.com writes. New England neither interviewed nor held a workout with Bailey, but it traded up in the fifth round of this year’s draft to select him. That move paid off, as the rookie specialist has two AFC Special Teams Player of the Week nods and is currently a favorite for the Pro Bowl.
Rich Cimini of ESPN.com expects the Jets to make a concerted effort to re-sign linebacker Jordan Jenkinsthis offseason. Jenkins, who will be eligible for unrestricted free agency for the first time, has steadily improved during his first four years in the league, and despite missing two games this season with a calf injury, he has posted five sacks, just two shy of his career-high of seven (which he set last year). Jenkins will likely command a contract paying him over $10MM per year.
Bills fans have been less than impressed with the performances of front-seven defenders Star Lotuleleiand Trent Murphy, but Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic says (via Twitter) that Lotulelei will definitely be back with the team next year (the Bills could save $10.1MM against the 2020 cap by cutting Lotulelei after the season, but they would also take on a $7.8MM dead cap charge). Murphy’s status is a bit tougher to predict, but if the Bills move on from Shaq Lawson, Murphy is likely to be back for the final year of his contract.
Good news for Steelers fans. Left guard Ramon Foster, who was carted off the practice field yesterday, hyperextended his knee but did not suffer any ligament damage and will not require surgery, as Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network reports (via Twitter). Kinkhabwala adds that Foster will miss four to five weeks but is expected to be ready for Week 1.
Now let’s get to more notes from around the AFC:
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam expressed unwavering support of head coach Hue Jackson during Haslam’s traditional training camp address yesterday. Per Tony Grossi of ESPN 850 WKNR, Haslam said, “I think we will see the real Hue Jackson (this year). He has good quarterbacks, he has some skill players, he has veteran offensive line – now, we have to figure out left tackle – and three really good backs and a good defense. I think this will be the first opportunity Hue will have to do what we know he can do as head coach and as a leader. We are excited to see it.” That certainly sounds to some, like Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, that Jackson is getting a clean slate, which is quite surprising for a head coach who has compiled a 1-31 record over his two seasons with the club. But Grossi suggests that the Haslams could also be subtly putting Jackson on notice that he is out of excuses.
Johnathan Joseph, who signed a two-year, $10MM deal to remain with the Texans this offseason, does not plan on calling it quits anytime soon, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle writes. The 34-year-old Joseph is entering the 13th year of his career, but he remains a starting cornerback and stills loves the game and the camaraderie it engenders. Joseph said, “as long as I’m healthy and I’m fine, I’m going to go out there and compete and contribute to the team. I’ll never play this game just to be playing and out there taking checks and stuff like that. So, if I’m able to be out there playing winning football, I’ll always play.”
We learned several days ago that Raiders star defensive end Khalil Mack, who is staying away from the team in an effort to land a new contract, has not spoken with head coachJon Gruden since Gruden was hired in January. That report sent some of Raiders Nation into panic mode, but as Jerry McDonald of the Mercury News opines, there is no cause for alarm. He says Gruden is right to stay out of the negotiations, which is the domain of GM Reggie McKenzie and ownership, and that there should be no issues between Mack and Gruden when the contract situation does get resolved. McKenzie, meanwhile had no updates to offer on the negotiations.
Embattled Bills DE Shaq Lawson could be on his way out of Buffalo, but DC Leslie Frazier isn’t casting him aside just yet. Frazier said Lawson’s best football is ahead of him, and that he is much too young to say that 2018 is a make-or-break year (via Joe Buscaglia of WKBW on Twitter). However, as Mike Rodak of ESPN.com tweets, Frazier also refers to Trent Murphy as the team’s starting left end, which is further evidence that Lawson has ground to make up if he wants to remain a Bill.
The Bills will sign free agent edge rusher Trent Murphy, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). It’s a three-year, $21MM deal, tweets Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, while the total value can rise to $30MM, per Rapoport (Twitter link).
Murphy, who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Redskins, drew plenty of free agent interest despite missing the entire 2017 campaign with a torn ACL and MCL. Both the Patriots and Buccaneers were reportedly in on Murphy, while Washington had offered him a contract to return to the nation’s capital.
The Bills plan to use Murphy at defensive end, not linebacker, as Joe Buscaglia of WKBW tweets. Buffalo already has two starting defensive ends in Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson, but Murphy will offer depth allow the Bills to play their edge rushers in a rotational capacity.
A former second-round pick, Murphy’s best season came in 2016 when he posted nine sacks. That potential was enough to get him a multi-year deal this year, but the 27-year-old certainly comes with risk attached. Not only can a dual ACL/MCL injury be tough to recover from, but Murphy was also suspended four games last season for performance-enhancing drug usage.
Murphy missed all of 2017 due to multiple injuries, including tears to his ACL and MCL in addition to offseason foot surgery. He also has a PED suspension in his past. To his credit, he showed promise in the previous season by registering nine sacks off the bench.
Trey Flowers and Eric Lee served as the Patriots’ starting defensive ends last season and are both under contract for 2018. The duo combined for 10 sacks last season. The Patriots entered Wednesday having the 21st-most available cap space in the NFL at $22.41MM.
Murphy lent credence to this offer coming in, or his camp being intrigued by it, via Twitter post Sunday night. Murphy is coming off a lost season, and this may well be a one-year proposal.
He missed all of 2017 because of multiple severe injuries. He tore an ACL and MCL in a preaseason game, and those maladies came after he underwent offseason foot surgery. The fifth-year player joins other players with recent injury histories on the market, with Pernell McPhee and Alex Okafor also among the top edge options.
Murphy, though, showed promise in 2016 by registering nine sacks despite not being a starter. Murphy, 27, was also suspended for PEDs last year. The former second-round pick would rejoin a Ryan Kerrigan-fronted edge corps if he re-signs. The Redskins selected Ryan Anderson in the second round last year and also have Preston Smith under contract.
NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. After looking at offense on Monday, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.
Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.
Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.
We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.
Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by defensive position for 2018:
As a positional group, pass rushers comprise interesting market on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not often that a list of best available players is topped by a 38-year-old, but Peppers is the top free agent edge defender after the Cowboys and Lions deployed the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah, respectively. As with quarterbacks, NFL clubs are extremely reluctant to allow pass rushers to hit the open market, so top-tier options are rarely ever truly “available.” Peppers, for his part, hasn’t even declared whether he’ll return in 2018, but indications are that he’ll suit up for a 17th campaign after posting 11 sacks last year.
Alongside Peppers, other veterans populate the edge market, and while William Hayes may not be a household name, he’ll be a contributor for whichever team signs him. A stout run defender, Hayes is also capable of generating pressure despite managing only one sack in 2017. The Dolphins used Hayes on only 271 defensive snaps a season ago, and have since replaced him by acquiring fellow defensive end Robert Quinn from the Rams. Now that he’s entering his age-33 season, Hayes should come cheap, but will almost assuredly outplay his contract.
Nearly every other available pass rusher has some sort of flaw which will likely limit his market next week. Trent Murphy is only 27 years old and put up nine sacks in 2016, but he missed the entirety of the 2017 campaign with injury. Pernell McPhee, Alex Okafor, Junior Galette, and Derrick Shelby have also been plagued by health questions in recent seasons. And Adrian Clayborn famously registered the majority of his 2017 sacks (and 20% of his career sack total) in one game against overwhelmed Cowboys backup Chaz Green.
The two names that I keep coming back to are Aaron Lynch (49ers) and Jeremiah Attaochu (Chargers). Yes, Lynch has been suspended for substance abuse, struggled with his weight, and was reportedly in danger of being waived prior to last season. He’s also extremely young (he won’t turn 25 years old until Thursday) and ranked fifth in the league with 34 pass pressures as recently as 2015. Attaochu, a 25-year-old former second-round pick, also has youth on his side, and while he hasn’t quite flashed as much as Lynch, he’s also been buried on LA’s depth chart for much of his career.
Interior rushers are getting more respect in today’s NFL, but that still hasn’t translated to them being paid on the level of edge defenders — the 2018 franchise tag for defensive tackles, for example, is roughly $3MM cheaper than the tender for edge rushers. While the 2018 crop of interior defenders boasts some impressive top-end talent, none of the available players figure to earn a double-digit annual salary. Sheldon Richardson may have the best chance to do so, but Seattle determined he wasn’t worth a one-year cost of $13.939MM, so is any other club going to pay him $10MM per year? I’d guess he comes in closer to $9MM annually, which would still place him among the 25 highest-paid defensive tackles.
Dontari Poe will be an intriguing free agent case after setting for a one-year deal last offseason, but the most interesting battle among defensive tackles will take place Star Lotulelei and Muhammad Wilkerson, and I’m curious to see which player earns more on the open market. Both are former first-round picks, and it’s difficult to argue Wilkerson hasn’t been the more productive player — or, at least, reached higher highs — than Lotulelei. Wilkerson also won’t affect his next team’s compensatory pick formula given that he was released, but his off-field issues, which include a reported lack of effort and problems with coaches, could limit his appeal.
While Beau Allen and Denico Autry are potentially candidates to be overpaid based on their youth, there are bargains to be had at defensive tackle. Tom Johnson is 33 but he’s offered consistent pressure from the interior for years — his last contract was for three years and $7MM, so he shouldn’t cost much this time around. Haloti Ngata was injured in 2017 but plans to continue his career, and he can still stop the run. And Dominique Easley was outstanding as a 3-4 end in 2016 before missing last season with a torn ACL, meaning the former first-round pick could be a value play for any number of teams.Read more
Although there are a number of high-quality starting linebackers available in free agency this year, I predict most contracts signed by LBs over the next few weeks will come in lower that most expect. The linebacker market is relatively stagnant, and unless the player is a legitimate star or inking an extension with his original club, he’s usually disappointed with his annual value. The most expensive deal for an unrestricted free agent ‘backer who signed with a new team was Bruce Irvin‘s $9.25MM/year pact with the Raiders, and Irvin can almost be considered an edge rusher. After Irvin, it’s Danny Trevathan, whom the Bears signed for a $7MM annual value in 2016.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise if no linebacker listed above is able to top Trevathan’s two-year-old average, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t starting-caliber LBs on the market. Zach Brown, the poster boy for having to accept cheap contracts, is coming off another solid season, but is reportedly asking for top-three inside linebacker money. Good luck. Similarly, Demario Davis is looking for $8-10MM annually, while the Jets — who have interest in re-signing him — view him as a $3-4MM/year player.
Nigel Bradham and NaVorro Bowman should both come in around Trevathan’s $7MM average after posting excellent 2017 campaigns. While the Eagles would surely prefer to re-sign Bradham, the club’s dire cap situation may mean Bradham will hit the open market next Wednesday. Bowman, meanwhile, was traded from the 49ers to Raiders last season, and he seems like a good bet to stay with Oakland after new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther heaped lavish praise on the 29-year-old.
Top-to-bottom, the cornerback market is the deepest positional group on the defensive side of the ball. Need a No. 1 defensive back with experience in both man and zone? Trumaine Johnson is your guy. How about a top-end cornerback who, while admittedly up-and-down at times, has the ability to shut down opposing wide receivers? Malcolm Butler has you covered. A former first-round pick who has finally played up to his potential over the past two seasons? Take a look at Morris Claiborne. Or is a career journeyman who posted 10 excellent games last year more your speed? Look into Rashaan Melvin.
Slot cornerbacks are also prevalent in this year’s defensive back market, and while I ranked Aaron Colvin, T.J. Carrie, Patrick Robinson, and Nickell Robey-Coleman in order of my preference, they could each be plugged into a starting nickel package immediately. I originally though Robinson could land a disappointing deal given his age (31) and his track record of underwhelming play prior to 2017, but he’s already garnering interest from the Giants, Raiders, and Cardinals, so his market should allow him to reach at least $5MM annually. Colvin could garner even more than Robinson thanks his youth (26), and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com expects Colvin to have a “legit” market.
If teams are looking for a bargain at cornerback, they should target Ross Cockrell, whom the Steelers dealt to the Giants last year for a seventh-round pick. Cockrell has always been overlooked in the NFL, but he keeps producing results. In 2017, Cockrell finished first in Football Outsiders’ success rate, which measures cornerbacks on their ability to consistently stop opposing wideouts short of the sticks. In fact, Cockrell was one of only eight defenders who stopped a receiver short of a successful gain on over half their tackles a season ago, as FO’s Aaron Schatz recently tweeted, but the league consistently undervalues him and his skill-set.
The best free agent safety was taken off the board earlier today when the Rams used the franchise tag on Lamarcus Joyner, and the remaining market is extremely top-heavy. Eric Reid, Morgan Burnett, Tre Boston, and Kenny Vaccaro could all be in line for at least $5MM annually, but the rest of the class could struggle to find multi-year deals. Among the top-tier safeties, Vaccaro stands out as perhaps the most interesting name. A first-round pick in 2013, Vaccarro has posted three exemplary campaigns and two dreadful years; in 2017, Pro Football Focus ranked Vaccaro as the single-worst safety in the league among 87 qualifiers. But given his draft pedigree and his ability to man the slot, Vaccaro should land a solid deal.
While I like Reid and Burnett a bit more as players, it wouldn’t be a shock if Boston actually lands the largest contract. Reid and Burnett spend a lot of time close to the line of scrimmage, and both have been used as de factor linebackers from time to time. Boston, on the other hand, is a deep safety who can play coverage, and that repertoire is much more difficult to find on the open market. Similarly, Tyvon Branch has been great in coverage during his career with the Raiders, Chiefs, and Cardinals, so he could also see a nice pay bump next week.
After Branch, the crop of available safeties steeply drops off. Every other free agent we’ve listed above will be at at least 29 years old when the 2018 gets underway except for the Lions’ Tavon Wilson, and he was one of the NFL’s worst starting defensive backs last season. Veterans like Corey Graham or Ron Parker can still play as third safeties who see time in “big nickel” packages, but if you’re looking for a starting safety, you’ll want to bring in one of the top six defensive backs on the board.
Ryan Tannehill‘s season is officially over. The Dolphins placed the quarterback on IR and signed linebacker Junior Sylvestre. Tannehill, who will have knee surgery next week, is expected to be ready for the 2018 season. Sylvestre spent time with the Ryan Grigson-era Colts for two years but was cut after Indianapolis’ 2016 training camp. He signed with the Bills earlier this year but was cut after a month.
The Panthers signed defensive lineman Connor Wujciak, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Wujciak was an Eagles UDFA signing on in 2016, but an injury wiped out his would-be rookie season. The Chiefs worked out Wujciak last week. Panthers defensive tackle Vernon Butler will miss some time, Ron Rivera revealed Friday — via David Newton of ESPN.com — opening the door for an extra defensive line opportunity. Rivera said Butler’s target date for a return is Week 1. The Panthers waived defensive tackle Drew Iddings with an injury designation to open a roster spot, Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer reports (on Twitter).
Carolina also brought back offensive lineman Brian Folkerts, Person reports. The Panthers made room by cutting offensive lineman Tyrus Thompson, who had spent time with them since last season (Twitterlinks). A three-year backup blocker who played in 16 games for the 2014 Panthers, Folkerts last played for the 2015 Rams. Los Angeles cut him when paring its roster down to 75 players last summer.
Cornerback Jumal Rolle signed with the Bills and will replace Charles James, whom the team released, Joe Buscaglia of WKBW reports (on Twitter). Both players have at least two years’ experience and both previously played for the Texans. The 27-year-old Rolle was a Houston UDFA in 2014 and has played in 18 games. Rolle also intercepted three passes as a rookie before becoming mostly a special teams player in the time since. James played in 21 games with Houston between the 2015-16 seasons; Buffalo claimed him on waivers in May.
Linebacker Reshard Cliett negotiated an injury settlement with the Chiefs, becoming a free agent after being removed from Kansas City’s IR list, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports (on Twitter).
The Giants waived linebacker Jimmy Herman, whom they signed Friday. James Kratch of NJ.com tweets Herman was given a “left squad” designation.
The Saints and linebackerSae Tautu agreed on an injury settlement to trigger Tautu’s release from New Orleans’ IR, Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com tweets.
Rookie wide receiver Keevan Lucas signed a three-year contract with the Eagles, the team announced. Philadelphia waived linebacker Steven Daniels to make room. A Tulsa product, Lucas declared early but was not signed by a team after the draft.
Washington signed wide receiverJamari Staples and waived/injured left tackle Kevin Bowen, per John Keim of ESPN.com. The Chiefs waived Staples in June after initially signing him in May. The Redskins also placed Trent Murphy on IR. Murphy tore his ACL in Washington’s preseason opener Thursday night.
The Redskins received some bad news on Friday morning. Outside linebacker Trent Murphy suffered a season-ending torn ACL, according to Mike Garafolo and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). He also has a torn MCL, per ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter), meaning that his rehab process will become more complicated.
Washington was already preparing for life without Murphy through the first month of the season thanks to his four-game ban for performance-enhancing drugs. Now they’ll have to get by without the 26-year-old for the entire season.
Losing Murphy is a tough blow for the Redskins, but on the plus side, Junior Galette has looked productive and largely healthy throughout training camp. Galette has not seen live action since 2014, but he had 10.0 sacks and 45 tackles in that campaign. Galette can slide into Murphy’s previous supersub role while Ryan Kerrigan and rookie Ryan Anderson project to start at the top OLB spots.
Murphy is coming off of the most productive season of his career as he notched 46 tackles and a career-high 9.0 sacks.
The Giantsaren’t prioritizing a new contract for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who’s under control at eminently affordable prices through next season. If they do attempt to lock up Beckham down the line, it doesn’t seem that it’s going to be an easy negotiation. Beckham told uninterrupted.com on Thursday that he’s aiming to eventually become the NFL’s highest-paid player (via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post). “It’s like the elephant in the room and you don’t want to talk about it,’’ said Beckham. “I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I’m like, there’s no need to not talk about it. I believe that I will be, hopefully not just the highest-paid receiver in the league, but the highest paid, period.”
As great as Beckham has been during his three-year career, the top-paid honor tends to belong to a quarterback. That’s the case right now, with the Raiders’ Derek Carr‘s just-signed deal (five years, $125MM-plus) atop the heap on an annual basis. The Steelers’ Antonio Brown leads all receivers in yearly pay ($17MM per on a four-year, $68MM accord), but he lags far behind Carr. And it might be awhile before the 24-year-old Beckham is even able to challenge Brown and the league’s other richest wideouts, given that the Giants will have the option of placing the franchise tag on him for tolerable costs in both 2019 and ’20 if he’s unsigned. In the meantime, Beckham’s set to play this year for $1.8MM – a pittance relative to his production – and the Giants picked up his $8.5MM fifth-year option for 2018.
Redskins outside linebacker Trent Murphy underwent offseason surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot, according to JP Finlay of CSN Mid-Atlantic. Murphy is now healed, but he still won’t factor into the Redskins’ early season plans as a result of the four-game performance-enhancing drugs suspension the NFL handed him in April. When he returns in Week 6 (the Redskins have a Week 5 bye), the nine-sack man from 2016 will look to continue that strong production in a contract year.
Giants coach Ben McAdoo told reporters on Thursday that defensive end Owa Odighizuwa has reported to camp (Twitter link via Schwartz). Odighizuwa stayed away from the Giants during the offseason on account of personal issues.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford told reporters Tuesday that he “would love” to sign an extension with the Lions, but further comments indicate he’s looking to cash in – not take any kind of a discount – writes Kyle Meinke of MLive.com. Stafford addressed whether a mega-deal with the Lions would hinder their ability to build a quality team around him, saying: “I know every year teams find good ways to put good teams around good quarterbacks. You see it every year. So I’m not too worried about that. I know that the salary caps and all that kind of stuff is as malleable as you want it to be, so I think you just go and try and make a good decision for not only the player but the team and go from there.” Only four of the NFL’s 10 highest-paid quarterbacks were on teams that made the playoffs last season, with top-compensated signal-caller Andrew Luck among those whose clubs didn’t qualify. Thanks to the ever-rising cap, Stafford, 17th in QB salary in 2016, could be in line to supplant Luck as the league’s richest passer on his next deal.
More from the NFC:
The fact that quarterback Drew Brees is entering his age-38 season is a good reason for the Saints to swing a deal for New England cornerback Malcolm Butler, argues Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. Butler would occupy a hefty chunk of New Orleans’ cap room with an extension and would likely cost the team the 32nd overall pick, but he’s young enough (27) and has proven enough to make a trade a worthwhile move for a win-now team whose best player, Brees, might not have much time left, Triplett suggests. Butler signed his restricted free agent tender Tuesday, making him eligible for a trade. The Saints have shown significant interest in Butler this spring, even engaging in productive contract talks with him last month.
If the Cardinals were to draft a quarterback, that player would step into a “unique” situation, head coach Bruce Arians told Darren Urban of the team’s website (Twitter link). The Cardinals will rest aging starter Carson Palmer each Wednesday during the season, enabling the rookie to helm the first-team offense in practice once a week and perhaps expedite his development. Arizona owns the 13th overall pick and has shown interest in several draft-bound QBs, including prospective first-rounders Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Davis Webb and DeShone Kizer.
The way the Redskins approach the offensive tackle position in the draft could be a sign of how extension talks are going with Morgan Moses, observes Rich Tandler of CSN Mid-Atlantic. The right tackle is set to play a contract year, so it’s possible the Redskins will spend an early pick on a potential replacement. On the other hand, if they only address the position late or not at all, it may bode well for a new Moses deal. Washington has the money to get a deal done, opines Tandler, who expects Moses to earn $6MM to $7MM annually on his next pact. The 25-year-old has certainly made a case for a raise – he’s coming off his second consecutive 16-start season, one in which he ranked as Pro Football Focus’ 17th-best tackle among 78 qualifiers.
Meanwhile, Tandler senses that Redskins outside linebacker Trent Murphy and safety Bashaud Breeland are inclined to wait on discussing extensions (though it’s unclear whether the team is pursuing deals with either). While Murphy tallied a career-high nine sacks last season, his contract year has already gotten off to an inauspicious start with a four-game suspension. Breeland just switched agents, but judging by Tandler’s report, he’s not ready to put his new rep’s negotiating skills to the test quite yet.